It was another immensely frustrating evening for the Orlando Pride, as they fell 1-0 to a late Paige Monaghan goal. The Pride were probably a bit unfortunate on the night. They certainly created enough chances to take something from this game. But there were more than a few worrying signs for the second game in a row. The defeat represents a hammer blow to their chances of advancing to the final of this tournament. Losing a goal so late, 11 minutes from time, following the disastrous ending to the Racing Louisville game, will have been particularly frustrating for Marc Skinner and his staff.
Courtney Petersen at left-midfield
Eyebrows were raised before kick-off, as Marc Skinner named 3 full-backs in his first XI; which, on the face of it, seemed particularly bizarre as there were midfield options aplenty on the bench. Courtney Petersen looked to be operating in a left-wing position. Crazy, right? Well, maybe not that crazy as it turns out. As you'll see from the heatmap in figure 1, Petersen got up and down the flank very well. I'm just not sure what this selection says of Marc Skinner's confidence in some of his other midfield options? It's possible that I'm reading too much into this, but it's an interesting thing to ponder.
There were glimpses of proficiency in Petersen's play in relation to that position, however. The natural left-back fizzed a couple of low crosses into the area. One, in the first minute of the game, was unfortunate not to find someone in purple. She attacked well, and was able to provide solid defensive cover at times. Petersen is certainly a technical player, and one who I think has a lot of potential. Whilst you could argue her selection at left-midfield was a bizarre one, she certainly showed that she's a more than viable option there.
Figure 1 shows Courtney Petersen's heatmap, she covered a lot of ground on the left.
Whilst Petersen undoubtedly acquitted herself well, at times. It's a strange message to send to the rest of Orlando's fringe midfielders. Chelsee Washington and Erika Tymrak, will be particularly disappointed to have missed out on a starting berth, following an injury to Meggie Dougherty-Howard. Tymrak, in particular, impressed against Louisville during her brief cameo. And again during this game. Washington also caught the eye during pre-season. So, it was strange to see Petersen line up in midfield.
That's no particular criticism of Petersen, though. The youngster completed 13 of her 14 passes, and played 6 attempted crosses. These numbers may not seem that impressive, but they definitely are when you consider how much Orlando struggled to keep possession. The visitors dictated the ball with 60.8% of the possession over the 90. Orlando need to improve on their passing accuracy though, with only 68.6% off their 342 passes finding their intended recipient (figure 3). The visitors, meanwhile, made 80.9% of their 538 passes stick. Possession is everything in football and the Pride need to get better at this. Which, you have to believe they will, with the amount of talent they have on their roster.
Fgure 2 shows Courtney Petersen's successful & unsuccessful cross/pass matrix.
Figure 3 shows the possession statistics for Orlando (left) and Gotham (right).
Taylor Kornieck continues to display her potential
Back in 2020, Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner said he felt like 'the cat that got the cream' when he picked up Taylor Kornieck in the first round of the NWSL Draft. Two games into the new season, it's very easy to understand why. Kornieck covered a lot of ground, and did an excellent job in terms of being the bridge between Sydney LeRoux and the Orlando midfield.
You'll see from the heatmap in figure 4, that Taylor got around the pitch well. She got into some dangerous areas, and was able to help her teammates out during defensive transitions. I'm probably going to sound like something of a broken record by the end of the season, but I firmly believe this is a player that has an incredibly high ceiling. It would be easy for me to say she needs one, with her towering frame. But I'm better than that. OK, maybe I'm not. But I'm also tall, so it's cool.
My favourite thing about Kornieck is that he height isn't all she has. It's easy to say that she uses her height to her advantage, but you'd be doing a disservice to her technical ability and her eye for goal. Kornieck managed to get 5 shots off, from 61 touches (figure 5). Gotham struggled to track her, and she used her high soccer IQ to find pockets of space and bring others into play. With the right coaching and development opportunities, you're potentially looking at a future USWNT pick. Seriously.
Figure 4 shows Taylor Kornieck's heatmap. She covered a lot of ground.
Figure 5 shows Kornieck's performance statistics.
Defensive frailties expose Orlando again
I'm going to sound like a broken record again, but there's a real danger this could become a serious, and on-going, problem for the Pride this season. For the second time in two games, Orlando's lack of concentration at the back cost them dearly. That's 3 points off the board already and, let's be realistic, their chances of reaching the NWSL Challenge Cup final. A chance at silverware, by the way.
When Gotham broke down the right flank, the defensive positioning of Konya Plummer and Ali Krieger really concerned me. And I don't want to be overly critical, especially with regards to Plummer (who is an NWSL rookie). But the positioning for this goal is more than questionable, and will undoubtedly concern Marc Skinner.
This goal was also particularly disappointing for Ashlyn Harris in goal. It wasn't Harris' busiest evening, but she'd certainly earned the clean sheet with that early penalty stop. Overall she stopped 2 of the 3 shots she faced, and had little chance with the goal. Some will argue she could have saved it, but she was left hopelessly exposed by her backline (see below).
Figure 6 is a still from just before Gotham's game-winning goal.
The ball goes out to the right flank, and Krieger loses track of Monaghan before the ball even comes in. Plummer is also ball watching. It's just terrible defensive positioning. I'm sorry, but it is. The Pride also handle the defensive transition poorly; they get caught out in possession of the ball and then weren't able to effectively track their runners. It has to improve, as it's already costing points.
I know some are viewing the Challenge Cup as, essentially, a pre-season tournament. That's not a view I share, to be perfectly honest. This tournament represented a real opportunity to win silverware. That's the only way you build a winning culture.
This club is definitely heading in the right direction in terms of their off-field and roster moves. This game, though... It just further emphasised that there's still a long way to go.
*Statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com
Game still courtesy of the CBS Network.